Does Food Have Power?Dec 01, 2022
Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday have all passed, and December is already here. Many of us are starting to feel the pressure of special dinners, parties, and other social gatherings. Co-workers, family, and friends are turning into pushers (food pushers, that is), as they share plates of the special holiday treats that they made "just for you," or try to guilt you into indulging with them so they don't feel guilty indulging alone.
It all comes down to your choices.
Something we often lose sight of is that food doesn't have any special power. It isn't good or bad. It's just food. And whenever you eat it - whatever it is - you've simply eaten food.
Somewhere along the way we've decided to give food power over our choices, whether through habit, emotional connection, or some other reason. Ever talk about how something you really enjoy eating is completely irresistible? Is there something you feel you completely lose control over whenever you eat it?
When you eat something, whether or not it's "good for you," you're not good or bad for having eaten it. But that kind of thinking is pretty ingrained - just like that all-or-nothing thinking you've learned through years of dieting. You know, the thinking that keeps you berating yourself for not having been able to resist it, figuring you'll have to skip a meal or spend an extra hour exercising just to make up for it.
Each time you think those kinds of thoughts, you give food power - or reinforce the belief that it has any. But it's not the food that has the power - it's the emotions and the meaning you attach to it that have the power. And emotions are strong. They're all your experiences and beliefs collected and stored in the subconscious mind that jump out and try to protect you, make you feel better, or switch on your autopilot setting. And no matter how much willpower you try to exert, your brain will lose out to your emotions. Every. Single. Time.
The truth is, though, when you actually surrender to the idea that food doesn't carry any special power, in your mind as well as in your habits, making more conscious choices will eventually feel almost effortless.
Let's look at an example. Think about a time when you gave yourself "permission" to eat or drink a certain thing. You planned it and knew that it was going to be marvellous. It was something you had been looking forward to, whether it was part of a special celebration, or maybe even the end of your last diet. You looked forward to that moment so much that just thinking about it made the spit run and your stomach make happy noises.
Then, one of 2 things probably happened.
- You took that first bite (or sip), breathing in and feeling really ready to savour it. It was as though the sun broke through the clouds and put you in a spotlight while the angels sang and orchestral music played in the background. WOW, it was everything you had anticipated.
- Or, you took that first bite, expecting all those things to happen, and realized that it didn't actually live up to your expectations. It was...meh. Well, you thought, maybe a few more bites would change your mind. But nope, that didn't happen. So you took a deep breath and ate it anyway, later wondering whether it was worth it.
Know what didn't happen? You didn't suddenly gain back all your weight, you didn't "fail" eating, and you still had the ability to get on with your life in a pretty normal way.
If you have a difficult relationship with food, you are NOT alone! Food may feel like it has power, or we may feel powerless over it, but only because we have attached some specific meaning to it. We have repeated the story (or had it repeated to us) over the course of many years until we really believe it. We can feel it in our bones.
The best way to mend your relationship with food - the best way to actually start enjoying food again - is to work at healing that relationship just like you would any other.
It can be especially helpful during this season when things are coming at you from just about every direction.
There's NO reason you can't enjoy your favourite foods during this season without derailing all of your progress. And if you do end up going overboard at some point? Take a deep breath, brush yourself off, and remember that you can make a different choice the next time.
The real power is in your choices. And you're the only one who can make them.
If you find yourself struggling in social situations, try one or two of the following strategies:
- Take a deep, slow breath with your mouth closed before you eat anything. That will help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you, especially if you're feeling stressed. While you're taking that breath, quietly check in with yourself to see what you're feeling at that moment, and ask your body what it wants. You might be surprised at how clearly it will tell you!
- Whenever possible, sit down to eat. If you're at a party with food coming around in single bites, be selective and check in with your hunger levels before each choice. Make sure whatever is being offered is something you really want.
- Speaking of cocktails, stick to wine or clear drinks instead of creamy, blended, or mixed drinks with lots of extra sugary ingredients in them. Sip slowly and consider having a glass of water between drinks to help you slow your roll and minimize the calories. Not getting that happy buzz going also helps you stay more aware of your food choices. (Oh, and sparkling water or some other soft drink is a perfectly OK choice if you don't want to drink alcohol.)
- Whatever you eat, sitting or standing, eat it slowly and mindfully. Taste it thoroughly, and enjoy every bite.
- Don't stand by the food table. This one may seem too obvious, but have you ever noticed that most home parties end up in the kitchen, and at most bigger social gatherings you end up near the food tables? It can feel comforting in stressful situations, and even if you're not feeling socially stressed, it can be the single biggest factor in mindless eating while you're chatting with others.
- If you know there won't be healthy food choices wherever you're going, have a healthy snack or meal beforehand, and politely decline what's offered. If you feel like you have to eat something, be choosy and just take a little bit. It's also OK to leave some food on your plate.
- Eat normally during the day before a big dinner or party. Going into it feeling super hungry can cause you to choose less healthy options or eat really quickly and end up overeating.
- Whatever you decide to eat, make it "earn" the space on your plate. If it's not something you really love, then don't eat it. One way I make that decision is to think about whether it's something I would drive across town for. If not, it's okay to decide not to eat it.
- Stay hydrated. The kinds of things we tend to eat and drink during the holidays are higher in sugar and salt, and staying properly hydrated will help you flush out all the extra "gunk" from your system. It also will help you with mental clarity and energy, and keep your joints and muscles feeling fluid.
- Stay active! Don't exercise to punish yourself for what you've eaten or to "work off" the extra calories. But do stay active to keep your energy up and your mind clear.
- It's 100% OK to say "No, thank you" to someone who is trying to push you to eat something you don't want. If they insist or try to employ guilt, there are a number of responses you can use to protect your boundaries. If this is an issue for you, check out our tribe over at LBNP for support. If you're already a member, check out our discussions on the forum and we'll touch on some of these strategies.
What strategies have you used in the past to help you navigate holiday gatherings? Let us know over on the forum how you're feeling about the coming holiday season. And remember we are here for you guys as coaches and mentors here in Live better, not perfect, and over at Eat better, not perfect- if you are interested in working with a certified Nutritionist.
Do you also want to strive for optimal well-being? Then discover our awesome community of individuals aiming to Live better, not perfect.
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